HAVANA Jan 27 Latin American and Caribbean
leaders converge on Cuba this week to discuss trade, peace and
human rights in a further sign of regional eagerness to
challenge the dominance of the United States.
The two-day summit is expected to take up issues such as
Colombian peace talks, lingering poverty in Haiti and human
rights. Thirty-three countries from the region will participate,
notably without the United States and Canada, which are not
While the visiting heads of state and government are likely
to express solidarity with Cuba and perhaps seek an audience
with former Cuban President Fidel Castro, Cuban dissidents who
advocate greater human rights on the communist-ruled island will
also try to capture attention with so many leaders and
At previous international events hosted by Cuba, dissidents
attempted to highlight human rights violations and a lack of
democracy in the Western Hemisphere's only one-party state.
Government opponents reported over the weekend they were
warned by police against attending a "Forum on Democracy" in
Havana on Tuesday and that a number of activists had been
Among those arrested was Jose Ferrer, leader of the Santiago
de Cuba-based Patriotic Union of Cuba, one of the most active
opposition groups. Police detained Ferrer on Friday in Havana
and released him on Sunday, his group said.
CELAC IS BORN
The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)
held its first summit in Chile last year, having been
established as a rival to U.S.-dominated forums such as the
Organization of American States (OAS) and the Summit of the
Americas, both of which meet without Cuba.
At the last Summit of the Americas, in Colombia in 2012,
leaders criticized U.S. President Barack Obama for the U.S.
economic embargo of Cuba and said there was little point in
holding another such summit without Cuba present.
Countries that once acquiesced to the United States in
expelling Cuba from the OAS in 1962 reversed course in 2009,
voting to reinstate Cuba, which nonetheless has refused to
participate in that forum.
"Cuba's national position remains unchanged. We will not
return (to the OAS)," Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez
told reporters on Friday, calling the organization "an
instrument of U.S. domination."
Even so, as a diplomatic courtesy Cuba invited OAS Secretary
General Jose Miguel Insulza, who has said he will attend as he
did the first CELAC summit last year.
Before the summit officially begins on Tuesday, Cuba and
Brazil on Monday will inaugurate a $900 million port project
largely funded by the Brazilian development bank BNDES and built
by Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Cuban President Raul
Castro will participate in the ceremony for the project, the
Mariel container terminal, which will include a rail and highway
support system and replace Havana as Cuba's most important port.
Once the official summit is under way, Venezuelan President
Nicolas Maduro has said he will propose the creation of
commission to study decolonization in support of independence
for Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth.
Maduro, who succeeded Venezuela's late, anti-U.S. President
Hugo Chavez, also supports making Puerto Rico the 34th member of
the community, known as CELAC.
The presidents of Peru and Chile may skip the summit because
the International Court of Justice in the Hague was due to rule
on a decades-old maritime dispute between the two countries.